National Mall

Racism and “cosmetic diversity” at the Republican convention

[Image: The Washington Monument at the National Mall, Washington D.C.]

I have not watched the Republican national convention since 1988. This year I decided I needed to watch at least some of it to know how scared I should be about the future of this country. I’m following The Guardian’s coverage rather than watching a livestream, so I’m not tempted to throw a brick through my TV set. This is not fun popcorn-time entertainment for me; the outcome of the election affects my health and safety.

I was nauseated, though not surprised, at the racism displayed by speakers at the convention. Rudy Giuliani’s blatantly false assertion that police save lives without caring whether they are white or black infuriated me. And then they put an Uncle Tom sheriff at the podium to talk about BlueLivesMatter. My friend and fellow black vegan social justice advocate Aph Ko brilliantly dissected this scene in a Facebook post:

Sheriff David Clarke was invited to speak at the Republican National Convention. This is a great example of cosmetic diversity. Black bodies are welcome so long as they recite knowledge from the dominant class. We need to abandon the idea that “representation” is the *only* problem we have in our movements. The reality is, black knowledge isn’t welcome. This is why when we superficially scream about diversity (in terms of skin alone), we need to be careful because it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting a diversity of knowledges and perspectives. When diversity is viewed as a skin-deep thing, Clarke’s presence at the RNC is viewed as “progressive.”

I wish folks would talk more about this subject rather than the apparent plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s speech by Melania Trump’s speechwriters. I don’t support plagiarism by anyone, but I don’t like the inevitable slut-shaming and accent-mocking that accompanies criticism of her. I’ve read that the woman is fluent in five languages; that’s four more than I am. Regardless, she didn’t write the speech, and she’s not a politician.

My horror at the Republican convention should be in no way taken as support for the Democrats. As I’ve repeated frequently in this blog, I am registered with no political party and endorse no presidential candidates at this time. The only candidates I’m remotely considering voting for are Clifton Roberts and Breeze Harper of the Humane Party, and Jill Stein (VP candidate yet to be announced) of the Green Party.

I understand that Stein is picking up a lot of support from former Bernie Sanders supporters who were actually surprised that he endorsed Hillary Clinton (I was not). I did vote for her in 2012, but left the Green Party subsequently, and am not thrilled with her statement about her part-time “veganism” that includes fish and dairy. I am far from a single-issue voter, but cannot ignore speciesism or the watering-down of veganism.

I’m still convinced that the only way to fix this country is a non-violent revolution. I wish I knew how to help make that happen. I really do.

ETA: I made the mistake of tuning into live coverage of the RNC briefly this afternoon, just before the California delegation came up for the roll call. Four black (as far as I could tell) folks gathered at the mic, the woman from the group gleefully announced my state’s 172 votes for Trump (see video clip from 0:13 to 0:33), and led the delegation in a “We want Trump” chant.  To say it made me sick would be an understatement.

ETA 2, July 20: The black women near the beginning and end of this video clip say they’re voting for Trump because he’s not a politician, they’re sick of “crooked Hillary Clinton” and “political correctness”, and just because they’re black doesn’t mean they have to vote Democratic. (I definitely agree on that last point…)

6 thoughts on “Racism and “cosmetic diversity” at the Republican convention”

  1. Aph Ko wrote (in part): “This is a great example of cosmetic diversity. Black bodies are welcome so long as they recite knowledge from the dominant class. We need to abandon the idea that “representation” is the *only* problem we have in our movements.”

    I ran across an article this morning and in it there was this passage that seems to me to be a restatement of the idea of cosmetic diversity:”…we can call identity-reductionism the tendency of political movements to focus wholly on the identity, not the root cause which plagues the identity (to return to our previous example: feminism is the identity but patriarchy is the root cause). Identity-reductionism posits nothing but the identity and only the identity as the means of salvation for oppressed and marginalised groups…”

    Link to complete article:

    Am I correctly understanding the notion of “identity-reductionism” as being essentially equivalent to cosmetic diversity?

    P.S….I agree with you that a non-violent revolution is needed to fix this country.

    1. I read the article you linked to… the line in the film where the older activist states “it’s not ‘real’ until it stops being fun” could stand to be read by some animal rights activists I know.

      I think the concept of “identity-reductionism” as stated here differs from “cosmetic diversity” in that the former refers to people representing themselves, whereas the latter refers to dominant groups tokenizing members of oppressed groups to make it look like they represent them and care about their needs. Whenever I hear a charge of “identity politics”, it it inevitably from a person in power directed at an oppressed group. But this film review does make some good points.

      1. Thank you for taking the time to read and to reply.

        I appreciate your comment greatly. I’ve learned to be suspicious and tentative regarding my understanding of concepts associated with dominant/subordinate groups and all help is appreciated and valued.

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